STAFFORD – A Manahawkin man’s connection with zombie apparel led him to inventing the Furzapper. His latest journey on bringing his product forward to a larger market came with his appearance with his business partner on the ABC TV show Shark Tank.
A few years ago, Michael Sweigart created an invention that picks up animal hair. He works in advertising and marketing, but he’s been working from home and typically, he’d be doing the laundry for the family.
“I’d do a wash and dry load every day and we had three animals in the house and all the laundry would still be coming out with all this fur on it. The clothes looked unkempt because there was so much hair on them. So, I tried to find a solution,” Swiegart said.
Sweigart said, “a few years ago, I was working at Frightfest for Great Adventure as a makeup artist. I would go in and make up all the zombies and clowns and all that, put masks on people. I had some familiarity working with silicone and experimenting with different mask-making techniques for fun.”
When Sweigart had dropped one of the masks that had ripped, he picked it up and noticed “there was hair all over it. This stuff just attracted hair like a magnet. I took that big chunk of zombie mask and threw it in the laundry with my clothes and it tumbled around and then I threw it into the dryer and it was tacky and soft enough to grab the hair but it didn’t hold onto the hair permanently. It wasn’t all stuck to it.”
Sweigart experimented further. “I bought a bunch of different kinds of silicone and a couple of different thicknesses, sizes and shapes and I came upon what we have now which is this nice round disk that is shaped like a paw.”
After doing some research on a patent he went to an attorney, Toms River’s Harry Levin, and found it was “very patentable and now we have several patents. His attorney not only provided him legal advice but was so taken with the concept that he joined him as an investor and partner in the company and currently serves as its vice president.
“We put it on Amazon and also got orders from there and were selling a couple hundred a month,” Sweigart said. It was a Walmart newspaper advertisement that got things rolling even further.
The full-page ad announced that Walmart was investing in American businesses. Apply now and get your product into Walmart. “We applied and were accepted and long story short they loved it, and said they would like to have our products for sale.”
“Everyone I talked to said this would be a great Shark Tank product and I said, ‘yeah it probably would be.’ Being so busy with every aspect of the business I didn’t have time at first to fill out this monstrously long application.” It took a year before his partner and members of his staff finally filled out the application.
He and Levin made a professional video to promote Furzapper for Shark Tank which is a reality show where entrepreneurs pitch their unique products before a panel who decide whether they want to invest in them.
Sweigart said he and Levin spent 10 days in Las Vegas last September for a segment on the show that aired on April 9.
During that segment the two men went before panelists Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner, Barbara Corcoran and Kendra Scott.
Levin gave an enthusiastic greeting to the panelists at the start of the segment. The duo asked the panel for $600,000 in exchange for 10% of ownership of their company. While Sweigart went over the origin of the Furzapper, Levin spoke about how it addresses the hairy problem of pet fur debris.
“The best part is this, you can reuse the Furzapper over and over again,” Levin told the Sharks. “With your help, we will be zapping the fur off pet owners’ clothes around the world.”
O’Leary was quick to jump in with an offer. Corcoran expressed interest as well but it was Greiner who spoke up with the strongest desire to match O’Leary’s deal and go beyond it.
Levin said he expected to get over $4 million this year. “We are in every Walmart in the United States. Our two-pack is our top seller which sells for $14.99.”
He added that acquisition costs for the product is “a nickel.”
O’Leary said he was in the cat business with a firm that performs cat DNA testing. He made a two part offer. “I will offer you $600,000 to cover debt for three years at 9.5% and I will only take 5% equity in that scenario.”
His other offer involved, “if you want to go for equity, I’ll do the $600,000 for 20% and then I go to work expanding what you are doing to direct customers. That to me is far more interesting. There is an offer with some fur on it,” O’Leary said.
Levin said that was “a brilliant offer” but he wisely wanted to hear what Greiner had to say. Corcoran however spoke next. “I’d like to give you $600,000 for 20%.”
“I have fallen in love with you both but as I am sitting here in the tank today and while there are things, I am great at, there are Sharks here that have access to things that can give you things that I could not. I’m going to pass because I know it is better for you. I sure as heck would like to invest,” Scott said.
Grenier said each year she brings her pad to scribble notes “and all these years I have never written one thing. I wrote this time; this is so right for me.”
O’Leary joked saying “that is funny Lori I wrote that it was better for me.”
“I would give you the $600,000. I would give it for 19.99% Greiner said but a counter offer came in from Cuban for 15% ownership.
“Will you jump in with him,” Levin asked Greiner.
“I won’t jump in with him but I will match it Harry,” she responded. “I am the right person to pick. Sometimes when the Sharks work alone you can hit the road running and do great.”
Corcoran went down to 15% as well and offered an additional $600,000 credit line.
Levin went back to Grenier confirming the 15% and $600,000 “with the understanding that you may need to provide some additional funding if needed, we’re okay.”
“Good!” she said and with that Levin and Sweigart jointly said, “Lori you have a deal.”
Afterwards Levin said, “I’ve been watching Lori on Shark Tank all season and I’ve fallen in love with her and I respect everything she does. Making a deal with her – other than getting married, the birth of my children and my grandchildren this is without a doubt the best day of my life,” Levin said.
Sweigart said, “they did a great job protecting everybody including everyone behind the scenes as well. They treated us like royalty and it was surreal,” he added. He added that another Furzapper product would soon be added to the list of items that his company is providing in its never-ending battle against animal fur and hair in home across America.